Skip over navigation

Eliot’s Poetry

T. S. Eliot

The Waste Land Section IV: “Death by Water”

The Waste Land Section III: “The Fire Sermon”

The Waste Land Section V: “What the Thunder Said”

Summary

The shortest section of the poem, “Death by Water” describes a man, Phlebas the Phoenician, who has died, apparently by drowning. In death he has forgotten his worldly cares as the creatures of the sea have picked his body apart. The narrator asks his reader to consider Phlebas and recall his or her own mortality.

Form

While this section appears on the page as a ten-line stanza, in reading, it compresses into eight: four pairs of rhyming couplets. Both visually and audibly, this is one of the most formally organized sections of the poem. It is meant to recall other highly organized forms that often have philosophical or religious import, like aphorisms and parables. The alliteration and the deliberately archaic language (“o you,” “a fortnight dead”) also contribute to the serious, didactic feel of this section.

Commentary

The major point of this short section is to rebut ideas of renewal and regeneration. Phlebas just dies; that’s it. Like Stetson’s corpse in the first section, Phlebas’s body yields nothing more than products of decay. However, the section’s meaning is far from flat; indeed, its ironic layering is twofold. First, this section fulfills one of the prophecies of Madame Sosostris in the poem’s first section: “Fear death by water,” she says, after pulling the card of the Drowned Sailor. Second, this section, in its language and form, mimics other literary forms (parables, biblical stories, etc.) that are normally rich in meaning. These two features suggest that something of great significance lies here. In reality, though, the only lesson that Phlebas offers is that the physical reality of death and decay triumphs over all. Phlebas is not resurrected or transfigured. Eliot further emphasizes Phlebas’s dried-up antiquity and irrelevance by placing this section in the distant past (by making Phlebas a Phoenician).

More Help

Previous Next
What's in a Name?

by CUBarbara, September 16, 2012

I think an important aspect out that was left out was the name "Lil" which can be short for two Lily or Lilith.

The Lily is a lovely white flower that, in the language of flowers, represents compassion and innocence. Oftentimes painters included lilies in images of the Virgin Mary to represent her innocence.

Lilith is a pagan spirit adopted into Jewish lore. She was the first wife of Adam who was cast from Eden when she wanted to be on top during sex. She became the first vampire and preyed on Adam's children borne by Eve.

0 Comments

3 out of 15 people found this helpful

The presence of a common theme or attitude to life in the separate sections of T.S. Eliot's poem 'Preludes'

by Shehanaz, May 29, 2013

“The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’ clock.
The burnt –out ends of smoky days.”
A poem is a complete expressive of the mood of the poet, and Thomas Stearns Eliot is of no exception to it, when he is certainly throughout his poem is deeply in a mood of gloom and despair, as far as society is concerned. He is considered to be one of the most distinguished poets of the twentieth century who brought a very modern touch to his poetry with plenty of symbolism and knowledge of ... Read more

0 Comments

67 out of 72 people found this helpful

Appalled

by EddieTemple06, September 30, 2013

Whilst the commentary is interesting and does provide some interpretations that are worth merit, the summary is just shocking.
How anyone can read a stream-of-consciousness poem such as this and actually interpret it as "Prufrock" travelling from location to location is beyond me; secondly, the narrator (Prufrock; Eliot) is not addressing any external party, be it the reader or someone else: he is addressing HIMSELF. This, surprisingly, is the nature of a s-o-c poem. This is known as IMAGERY, nothing more. "I wandered lonely as a cloud... Read more

1 Comments

98 out of 106 people found this helpful

Follow Us